Carpenters were, at times, incandescent, cold, tragic and legendary. This is quite a ride. And everything was documented on the pages of this magazine.
Fifty years ago this week, Carpenters – Karen, then 19, and Richard, 23 – entered the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with their balladed version of the Beatles' 1965 hit, "Ticket to Ride". The sleeper hit took three months to peak at number 54. But the duo's next single, "(They wish to be) close to you", was an immediate success. It reached number one in just six weeks and became Billboard's summer song.
Another talented team of brothers and sisters, Billie Eilish and her older brother, FINNEAS, is wreaking havoc today. But there are some important differences. Eilish is a solo artist, where Carpenters were a duo. And Eilish and FINNEAS exude modernity, where the Carpenters have always appeared as a square. But they made great records. They followed "Close to you" with "We just started", "For all we know", "Rainy days and Mondays", "Superstar" and "Hurting Each Other" – six million consecutive sellers.
Carpenters (officially, there was no "o" in his name) were, at times, incandescent, cold, tragic and legendary. This is quite a ride. And everything was documented on the pages of this magazine.
In Billboard's latest Greatest of All Time Hot 100 recap, they rank 36th. In Billboard's most recent recap of Greatest of All Time Artists – combining Hot 100 and Billboard 200 activities – they occupy the 54th position. 2 on both lists, just behind Daryl Hall and John Oates.
All this processing of numbers only confirms what you already knew: the carpenters sold a ton of records at the height. This is a tribute to the talents of Karen and Richard.
Karen's voice was distinct and immediately recognizable. She sang with warmth and depth; ease of conversation and an internal sense of desire. You can hear Karen's influence on singers like Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain. You can hear echoes from Karen in hits like Madonna's "Crazy for You" and Beyoncé's "Halo". But you can't really say, after all this time, that someone has replaced Karen Carpenter.
The late Leon Russell (who wrote the Carpenters classic "Superstar" and two other songs they recorded, "A Song for You" and "This Masquerade") once said, "Well, Karen Carpenter was just a singularly amazing singer. just nobody like her. "Madonna said she is" completely influenced by her harmonic sensitivity ". Here's what Rolling Stone said about Karen's style of putting her on her list of the Greatest Singers of All Time 2010: "Impossibly exuberant and almost shockingly intimate, Carpenter's performances were a new type of torch song. ".
And Richard knew exactly how to frame that voice. He received five Grammy nominations for his arrangements for songs like "Close to You", "Superstar" and "Sing". In "Close to you", he did almost impossible: he improved the Burt Bacharach deal. (Bacharach had arranged for Dionne Warwick's 1964 recording of the song.)
Carpenters were ahead of the game on some important trends. The 1972 hit "Goodbye to Love", with Tony Peluso's memorable guitar solo, was one of the first powerful ballads. In 1975, eight years before Linda Ronstadt's celebrated collaboration with arranger Nelson Riddle, What's New, Carpenters recorded a version faithful to the 1938 Tommy Dorsey standard period "I can dream, I can't". Billy May teamed up with Richard to organize the track. And Karen was way ahead of her time as a drummer.
In the end-of-year edition of Billboard in 1970, "Close to You" was ranked number 2 of the year, right behind "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel. In the same edition, Billboard awarded the Carpenters a Trend Creator Award, for leading "a trend towards the softer and more melodic harmonies of rock that have in turn influenced many other groups". The arrival of the carpenters seemed to open doors for other acts in his vein, such as Bread, whose "Make It With You" followed "Close to You" to the first place in the Hot 100 in August 1970, and Anne Murray, whose "Snowbird" reached the top 10 in September.
Billboard published a special section celebrating the success of the Carpenters in its November 17, 1973 issue. Herb Alpert, who signed the duo with A&M Records in 1969, wrote: "When you know a good song, when can you write a good song? music and when you have talent – be careful – it can last forever ".
It turns out that the special took place at the moment when Carpenters was approaching its peak. Two weeks later, "Top of the World" – which Richard co-wrote with longtime lyricist John Bettis – became his second number one hit on the Hot 100. In January 1974, The Singles 1969-1973 became his only Album number 1 on the Billboard 200. The compilation was an even bigger hit in the UK. He led the UK's official album chart for 17 weeks, the third longest of all albums in the 1970s.
Alpert was right and wrong in his prediction. The active and hit-producing part of his career "has not gone on forever." Within a few years, they would encounter resistance on pop radio for the first time. But their legacy is secure and will likely live on indefinitely.
In January 1975, Carpenters got his third and final number 1 on the Hot 100, a bold cover of Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman".
But beginning in 1976, pop radio began to find reasons not to add its records. His "four-shoe" image (a dig that Richard really thought was smart) made some fans walk away. Captain & Tennille came up with a similar sound and managed to defeat Carpenters in their own game for a few years. Worse still, Karen developed an eating disorder then little known, anorexia nervosa, which struggled for the rest of her life.
Even after their pop hits waned, Karen and Richard had some notable successes. His first TV special in December 1976 reached the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings. His 1978 album, Christmas Portrait, became a perennial holiday. It's easy to see why: many Christmas songs are melancholy and even melancholic, and have always been Karen's strong point. She was at home in heartfelt ballads like Bing Crosby's "I'm Home for Christmas" and Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" as well as her own "Merry Christmas Darling", a ballad cozy, composed by Richard, that they first launched in 1970.
In 1977, Carpenters released the strangest single of his career: a cover of Klaatu's space sci-fi epic "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". The single was a kind of Hail Mary pass from the duo. He almost became a huge success, but ended up in 32nd place on the Hot 100 – where they used to land in that frustrating period of their career.
I interviewed Karen and Richard for Billboard in the summer of 1981, when they released Made in America, their first vacation album in almost four years. (Nowadays, this would not be seen as a long period of layoff, but by 1970s standards it was an eternity.) Richard explained his long absence by saying: "I was tired. I already had enough. We" Always liked the our work and, when you get to a point where you don't like it, you need to stop, because it shows if you are tired.
"From Close to You (1970) to Now and Then (1973) we were going through a terrible time. We couldn't wait to put the vocals on a record to hear what the sound would be like. It should be. But at the time of Horizon (1975) ), we started to get tired. It took a long time to make this album and I was exhausted ".
Karen said she initially wanted a break too. "I was fine for a while, but I was looking forward to getting back to work. When you get to this business early, you don't know much more. I've never been very relaxing either."
Then, in 1979, Karen flew to New York to record a solo album with producer Phil Ramone, who had produced hits for stars like Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Chicago. The album took longer to record than anyone expected. In 1980, Richard was ready to return to work. Karen, divided, didn't want her solo project to get in the way. In a fateful decision, the album – Karen's stab at establishing a solo identity – was archived.
The 1981 Carpenters album, Made in America, produced one of the Hot 100's top 20 hits, the elegant "Touch Me When We Dancing". But the album and the following singles fell short of expectations. Karen finally sought treatment for her anorexia in 1982, but it may have been too late. Karen died on February 4, 1983, at the age of 32.
For a while, it looked like it would be like this. Some diehard fans knew they were better than their sticky image suggested, but with the singer dead, what were the chances of a significant reevaluation?
Fortunately, his records were so good, and Karen so unique and talented as a vocalist, that Carpenters were discovered by a new generation of fans. These young fans are not bothered by the clean image, the tacky advertising photos, the few bad records they made at the end (yes, I am thinking of "Beechwood 4-5789"). Some of these new fans may even find it all amusing, a little comic relief welcome before they return to hear another exciting ballad from the Carpenters.
Few singers sang ballads with a broken heart besides Karen Carpenter – because, we now know, she can relate. Bettis, Richard's songwriting partner, alluded to the aspect of his vocal personality in the title he invented for Carpenters' first album after Karen's death: Voice of the Heart.
The carpenters' revival was sparked by the success of Yesterday Once More, a 1985 double-disc compilation that won double platinum in the USA. A&M launched a steady stream of compilations, including a 2002 compilation that received a perceptual review on Billboard. And success is not limited to the USA. On the official UK album list, the Carpenters won 10 more albums …